Striking bus drivers back behind the wheel – for now

The drivers were cajoled back onto their buses by owners, but many said they would launch further strikes unless fines are lowered from the new minimum figure of K30,000.

However, some bus lines, including 235, which runs from North Dagon to Sule Pagoda, were still not operating yesterday, with buses remaining parked in their assembly areas.

“Yesterday, only nine of our buses were operating,” said a conductor from the No 157 line, which has more than 60 buses. “We are running again today because the owners said he will take responsibility for all the problems.”

Drivers argue that the infringements are mostly the result of financial pressures and the city’s grinding traffic jams.

Ko Aung Kyaw from the No 213 bus line said K30,000 was “too high”, as he normally has to pay two or three fines a day. He pays K60,000 a day to rent the bus and pays for compressed natural gas and other running costs. If he recoups more than his expenses, he keeps the profit.

“Because of traffic jams, sometimes we move out of the right-hand lane and it is against the law. But we have no choice … We have to find more passengers to get money,” he said, adding that only 10 of the 40 or so buses from the 213 line were operating yesterday.

“Today, the owner requested us to run and he also said if we broke the law accidentally he will solve the problem and pay the fine. Personally, I did not want to work. It is our right – if we don’t work, we will not get any money. But I don’t care. I will find another job unless they decrease the fine.”

The strike was launched following the signing of the Motor Vehicle Law on September 7. The law replaced legislation from 1964 under which the highest fine was K1500 and the heaviest prison sentence one year. Under the new law, motorists can be fined from K30,000 to K5 million, and in the most serious cases can be imprisoned for up to seven years.

The industrial action, albeit brief and patchy, brought to head discontents that have been simmering since economic liberalisation starting in 2011 flooded Yangon’s streets with new cars. The resulting congestion has forced bus drivers and conductors to work longer hours for less money, since their income depends on the fares paid by passengers.

Many road users blame the bus drivers for worsening the congestion by flouting traffic rules, and there is also criticism of the traffic police for their unequal treatment of offenders based on income and status.

Police appeared to confirm rumours that they briefly suspended taking action against traffic offenders on September 12, although senior officials could not be reached for comment.

U Min Zaw, who owns the 43 bus line, said that on September 14 drivers on the 157 line stopped work, and the following day drivers on the 43 line walked out. “We managed to placate them and asked them to work normally. About 50 buses have resumed normal operations. I think the new fines are too high, and I think the traffic police should act more transparently,” he said.

The bus owners say the authorities should take action to help relieve the situation. If higher fines are to be levied, they must take other measures to make life easier for drivers, including removing street vendors who block the roads, widening roads and providing more bays for bus stops.

U Hla Win, of Forever Green buses, which was not affected by the strike, said he didn’t think drivers wanted to break the law. “Sometimes they have to because of the congestion,” he said.

U Ko Ko Naing, owner of the No 31 bus line, said the fines could prompt some drivers to quit the business. “My drivers told me they didn’t want to work anymore, but they’re back behind the wheel today. But the 43, 157 and 213 bus lines were affected.”

Passengers had to do what they could to cope.

“I waited half an hour for the bus and then I took a taxi to get to work,” said Ko Nay Lin Aung, who takes the 213 from Tarmwe to downtown.

Police Captain Win Lwin of Tarmwe Township said he was aware of a temporary suspension of the enforcement of traffic laws on September 12, but declined to comment further.

Driver U Zaw Win from the No 43 bus line said many drivers were considering quitting over the higher fines. About two-thirds of the more than 80 buses on his line were not running on September 15.

“The owners asked me to work today but I’m not sure about the coming days,” he said.

“I plan to resign soon and instead work as a company driver. Most of my friends have left the city buses and are working at highway express lines.”

Source: Myanmar Times

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